Blog #RaceEquityMonth: Anti-racism in AHP Education – six months on

30 November 2023

Six months after the Council published the report Anti-racism in AHP Education: Building an Inclusive Environment, Ruth Mhlanga, Professions Lead for AHPs for South Tees Foundation NHS Trust, reflects on anti-racism in the sector and how it is progressing.

I believe that true equity will only exist when everyone has access to the opportunities they need to thrive, considering the diverse needs of every individual. A personalised care approach is key to reducing poverty and needs to be adopted when ensuring delivery of high-quality education. This approach should be delivered through the lens of access, experience, and outcomes across an individual’s career, ensuring an improvement in the diversity of AHP workforce and improving outcomes for communities.

As AHPs, we are fortunate enough to have leaders who, through policy and strategy, acknowledge the need to improve the experience of those who have been subject to racism. The Allied Health Professions have been proactive in responding to recent events since 2020, which have highlighted the inequities experienced by minority ethnic healthcare professionals. NHS England’s Allied Health Professions Strategy for England, AHPs Deliver, mandates the Chief Allied Health Professions Officer to deliver on the expectations outlined through its anti-racism statement.

To ensure the delivery of the strategy is truly meaningful to the BME community, a significant amount of work has been carried out to gather the experiences of those affected by racism and ensure equality, diversity, inclusion, and belonging are embedded into all AHP programmes of work. Over the past year, this commissioned work has included the Council of Deans of Health’s report Anti-racism in AHP Education: Building an inclusive environment, which highlighted examples of good practice and presented an opportunity for shared learning, and NHS England’s work with Global Majority Physiotherapists, which suggested the need to address these issues by considering the individual, the managers, and existing systemic structures. A repository of more work in this area can be found on the NHS England website.

The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan presents opportunities to ensure that, as we grow, retain and reform our workforce, the access to training opportunities, experiences, and outcomes for our AHP community is the best it can be. With the current supply of staff not meeting the service demands across all professions, it is more important now than ever to ensure we are able to recruit, retain, and support the staff we have. As an international recruit myself who has benefitted from excellent pastoral care, I am passionate about staff being treated well, acknowledging the courage of those who are recruited from other countries to start a career in a different country, with different culture, healthcare system, and language for some.

We acknowledge there are improvements to be made to processes that can enable the transition of staff from one stage of their career to another. Whilst we work on processes, one thing we can control is our attitude – our willingness to learn, grow, and transform to improve the experience of those who have suffered the effects of barriers that have stopped them from thriving. This can only be achieved if we believe it is the right thing to do and use compassion and kindness to understand their journey and their needs.

The theme for this year’s Black History Month was saluting our sisters. As we reflect on this, I challenge everyone to think if there is anyone they would salute. Are we recognising the contributions of our BME colleagues? Do we expect to see talent in those who are from BME backgrounds and give them opportunities to grow? I should surely hope so because I have experienced and seen the talent that lies within this community. Our services would be so much richer with innovations and diversity of thought if we are willing to listen and tap into the opportunities this offers us.

We should never underestimate the power that we all possess, and this power should be used for good, to transform experiences of all our AHP communities and services, with the NHS People Plan, NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, and AHPs Deliver, all providing frameworks to work against. Six months since the publication of the Council’s Anti-racism in AHP Education report, we now have an opportunity to utilise data from the National Education and Training Survey (NETS), with suggestions to start including ethnicity within its data metrics. This is a promising start which will enable higher education institutions and placement providers to work collaboratively to create a foundation for solid career progression for those from minority ethnic backgrounds. Addressing racism is a marathon, not a sprint, but there is a lot that we can do now to improve the experiences of those from minority ethnic backgrounds and we will retain, grow, and transform our workforce, one step at a time.

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